Tom Evans, who has died at the age of 89, was a self-taught scholar who became an international authority on the life and works of George Bernard Shaw. For 40 years he edited with great skill and wit The Shavian, the magazine of the Shaw Society.
He was also an accomplished lecturer who, in the style of the historian AJP Taylor, prided himself on timing his performances exactly and speaking without a script. He was widely known in the world of adult education through his work for the University of London’s extramural department and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). His platform performances at the National Theatre – on Shaw, Somerset Maugham, Harley Granville-Barker and other writers of that era – brought him a loyal band of followers beyond academe.
George Bernard Shaw
What appealed to Evans was Shaw’s irresistible humour on serious subjects, his independence of thought, his commitment to social change by non-violent means and his stubborn belief in the power of the written and spoken word to alter the mind of a country. Here was a man full of apparent contradictions, shy but with a talent for public notoriety, who combined fierce and aggressive assertions with a kindly and generous spirit, attacking people’s opinions but not their sincerity. Above all, perhaps, he admired Shaw’s opposition to warfare as a means of resolving international disputes, and his courage in stating this opinion at times when it made him unpopular. Evans came to believe he could follow such a man usefully and with honour.
In his final year he was deeply impressed by Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Andrew Undershaft, the arms dealer, in the National Theatre’s production of Major Barbara. He felt that the actor captured perfectly the essence of Shaw’s character as expounded in the play, thereby underlining its enduring relevance to the political issues of today.
Born in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, Evans was a younger twin. His brother James became the crossword editor of the Listener for more than 30 years.
Thomas attended Southend high school but, on failing to gain a scholarship to Cambridge, he joined the Inland Revenue, where he was assigned the rather dull and undemanding subject of estate and death duties. In his spare time he took a law degree at King’s College London. During the second world war the revenue was relocated at Llandudno in north Wales and it was here that, as a conscientious objector, he developed his love of literature and teaching skills. He became a part-time literature tutor for the WEA, and by the early 1960s was appointed secretary to the Civil Service Council for Further Education, later rising to be deputy director of London University’s extramural department.
His major work, George Bernard Shaw: The Critical Heritage, was published in 1976 and is still used by scholars today. Over the next 30 years he taught and published widely, lecturing in Canada, the US, Australia and South Africa. He was a regular contributor to the Pennsylvania State University Press’s annual of Shaw studies and was elected vice-president of the International Shaw Society. He also assisted in the compilation of a huge index to Dan H Laurence’s majestic four-volume edition of Shaw’s letters.
In addition to adult education, Evans had two passions: politics and cricket. He was a lifelong member of the Labour party and his extensive knowledge of cricket, particularly his beloved Essex, was evidenced by his fine collection of Wisden almanacs. He was an amusing and popular after-dinner speaker at cricket societies, drawing quotations typed on coloured paper from different pockets as he went along, always following the same pattern to keep the various pieces in the correct order.
In 1948 he married Marjorie, who he had met in the civil service, and they settled in Ashford, Middlesex, where they had four sons. After her death in 1986 he moved to Staffordshire, marrying Frances, who cared for him devotedly during his last years.
She survives him, as do his sons.
• Thomas Francis Evans, literary scholar, born 22 April 1919; died 10 December 2008
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